Tuesday, 29 April 2014

What exactly do botanists do on a field meeting?

Some members of Cambridgeshire Flora Group
Jon Shanklin (in green hat) second from right
Image: P. Leonard
Jonathan Shanklin is a very active BSBI member - at local and national level - as well as famously being one of the team of 3 scientists who Found the Hole in the Ozone Layer. He has sent me a report of the first meeting this season of the Cambridgeshire Flora Group. In our Yearbook, we do publish reports like this of the BSBI field meetings that we hold across Britain and Ireland throughout the year, but if you are not yet a BSBI member you may never have had the pleasure of reading one of these reports. They offer a real glimpse into what botanists actually do on a field meeting; they give you useful pointers of where to look for nice plants, if you are visiting the locality yourself; and (I think!) they make you want to get out botanising to see what you can find growing or flowering in your own county this week.

So here is Jon's report on the Cambridgeshire Flora Group's visit to Waresley Wood, a BCN WildlifeTrust site, on Saturday 26th April.  

You may spot other nice wildlife on our field meetings!
Image: J. Shanklin
"Most of Waresley Wood is in neighbouring Huntingdonshire (which is administratively Cambridgeshire, but botanically is vc31 rather than vc29). Our targets were to enjoy the woodland flora, to record the small section in vc29, and then do more recording in the area. As an aide, I [Jon S.] produced a list of rare species for the Wood, taken from the Hunts Rare Plant Register (RPR).  Primula elatior is fairly common in the Wood, though its hybrid with Primula vulgaris is only occasional – both were found quite easily. Our first real find was Athyrium felix-femina, picked up when we were looking at another fern.  Previously it had been reported anonymously in 2002, but only in the monad [a 1km x 1km square]. The other fern Dryopteris borreri was also on the RPR, but is now occasional across the wood. 

Greater Butterfly Orchid
Image: I. Denholm
"Next find was leaves of Greater Butterfly Orchid Platanthera chlorantha, which we ended up finding in small numbers at scattered sites across the Wood (though not in vc29). We continued through the Wood into the vc29 part, where we made a comprehensive list, which included Conopodium majus, Orchis mascula, Betula x aurita and Sorbus torminalis (believed to have been planted), which are all uncommon in the vice-county. A meadow at the edge of the Wood gave pause for thought – a Calamagrostis with hairs on the upper surface of the leaf. The keys all say that this must be C. canescens, but many of its other features, including those of a second patch in vc31 were more like those of C. epigejos.  

"We left the wood to survey the wider countryside wandering along several footpaths. We didn’t find much that was rare, though a couple of partly pollarded Populus nigra, complete with spiral galls, in a hedgerow was a nice surprise. Heading back towards the Wood we were delayed by a patch of rough ground adjacent to a grass airfield – this had a selection of arable weeds, though none of note. At a fork in the footpath, I suggested continuing along a green lane, rather than returning directly to the Wood, and we were rewarded by finding a small patch of Goldilocks Buttercup Ranunculus auricomus, along with another plant further down the lane, which Alan Leslie suggested was a different member of the apomict group. Then it was back into the Wood to enjoy the flora. 

Paris quadrifolia in Waresley Wood 26/4/2014
Image: P. Leonard
"In a wide ride we found some Luzula, which after a bit of puzzling decided was L. multiflora, another species from the RPR list, with possibly both subspecies present (so are they really subspecies?).  We decided that it was time to strike back towards the car-park, and perhaps find Neottia nidus-avis on the way. Along the way, I stumbled across an immediately recognisable plant in an area with very little other ground flora and called the others to have a look at the leaves of six stems of Paris quadrifolia. Although this wasn’t on the vc31 record card or the RPR list, we assumed that it must just be infrequent, as it is well known in some of the nearby vc29 woods. On arriving back home it didn’t seem to be in the RPR, until checking the data-deficient section it was listed as not having been seen in the county since 1982.  So a very nice find at a new county site.  

When you need to get up close and
personal to a plant... it's nicer if
there are other botanists around!
Image: J. Shanklin
"During the day we added significantly to the records for the two vc29 tetrads that we visited, finding over 150 species in one and over 170 in the other".

Thanks to Jon for such a full report - sounds like a really good meeting! All those plant records will feed into BSBI's databases and will show up on our distribution maps, to be used by other botanists who will go out and record what is growing in their county, and feed their records into the BSBI databases, so they show up on our distribution maps, so that... well, you get the idea!

Let us know what you are recording with your local botany group - if you haven't already, click on the interactive map to find out about local group activity in your area. Thanks also to recorders in South Yorkshire, North Wales and Northants. who are sending in reports and photos from the weekend's local group meetings and the Dandelion Weekend at Treborth. Will post them here throughout the week. And if you want to find out which wild plants BSBI members (and other wild flower lovers) are seeing in flower across Britain and Ireland, click here - you should be able to view photos and comments without logging in or giving your details to anybody!